Gourmet Romano And The Rise Of Light, Crunchy Pizza Crusts

They’re lighter than pizzas and puffier than flatbreads, yet aren’t quite either. So at Gourmet Romano, these atypical entrees are simply described as gourmet crusts. The dough-first approach at this newly opened Burbank eatery uses an artisanal Roman recipe that gets gently hand-pressed and baked into crunchy, airy crusts and panini breads, all adorned in authentic Italian flavors.

“This particular crust is different, because it’s mixed with different flours, and we use a different technique when making the dough,” said Karen Galstyan, who opened Gourmet Romano in July with his wife Serina. “That’s why we didn’t call it pizza. We say it’s gourmet food on the crust.”

Gourmet Romano - Cacio e Pepe pizza - Foodzooka
photo: Foodzooka (Cacio e Pepe)

Listed first on the menu, the Foccacia makes a bold statement as a crust-only option. Unfettered by toppings, you can taste the true essence of the crust, lightly seasoned with salt, rosemary, and olive oil. The otherwise undressed Foccacia looks like a golden, bubbly cloud with a surprising outer crunch that’s delicately soft on the inside. “With our Focaccia, you are enjoying the crust in itself. It’s hard to find a pizza that you can eat without the toppings,” said Karen.

This new Roman-style crust is also known as pinsa, which is gaining popularity in the US, not only for its texture but also for its healthier profile. Made with a flour blend of rice, soy, and wheat, it has less sodium, fewer calories, and less gluten than regular pizza dough. For the toppings, Gourmet Romano selects authentic Italian ingredients and fresh organic produce to create a balance of flavors without overwhelming the crust.

“For me, it has to be healthy and delicious; that makes it complete,” said Karen. “We want to make sure we find the best quality, the healthiest ingredients we can put on the crust.”

Gourmet Romano - meal on a crust - Foodzooka Splat
photo: Foodzooka (Alice)

On a weekly basis, the core components are flown in from Italy, including the flour, organic extra virgin olive oil, tomato sauce, cheeses, and cured meats. The fresh organic vegetables and herbs are bought locally—including the basil, tomatoes, zucchini, and arugula—so the special menu at Gourmet Romano changes monthly with the seasons.

You may recognize a few familiar pizza flavors and Italian dishes in the names of some crust entrees. The Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil) and 4 Formaggi (mozzarella, pecorino, parmigiano, and gorgonzola cheeses) are classic choices. The Cacio e Pepe is modeled after Rome’s most beloved pasta dish, speckled with enticingly potent pecorino (sheep milk cheese) and ground pepper, along with parmigiano and mozzarella, and a garnish of organic zucchini. The Carbonara crust is also based on a pasta dish, featuring its well-known key ingredients: egg yolk and fragrant guanciale.

Among the meatier entrees, the San Daniele is a popular pick, named after the acclaimed Italian prosciutto which is aged for 24 months. On the spicy side is Welcome to Hell, which aptly describes the fiery sensations induced by the peppery nduja and Calabrese salami. Also earning a cheeky name is the Super Mario, which puts mushrooms in the game along with organic sausage.

Gourmet Romano-Super Mario pizza-Foodzooka Splat
photo: Foodzooka (Super Mario)

The Salmone Cream Cheese is vibrantly layered with wild caught smoked salmon, sliced avocado, arugula, and dashes of pink ground pepper. The Alice, topped with anchovies and tomatoes, has appeared on the specials menu, and Karen aims to offer more seafood toppings soon, such as wild-caught shrimp and sea bass.

Among the meatless options, the Vegone has healthy helpings of zucchini and eggplant, plus swirls of three different vegetable creams: bell pepper, sundried tomato, and carrot. And the Freshness is a simple crust with cheese, fresh tomatoes, and arugula.

The San Daniele and Freshness crusts are two that showcase white lumps of buffalo mozzarella, a cheese prized for its soft, smooth texture and rich, creamy flavor. It’s also added to the Italiana salad, one of the three salads on the menu. “For Italians, real, real mozzarella is the buffalo mozzarella,” Karen said. “It’s a totally different taste.”

Gourmet Romano - San Daniele pizza - Foodzooka Splat
photo: Foodzooka (San Daniele)

Just as the gourmet crusts may defy your usual idea of pizza, the paninis at Gourmet Romano are not the grill-pressed ones that might come to mind. These use the same specialty pinsa dough that’s baked and simply folded in half over the ingredients to form a sandwich. Each panini contains a different type of pork—mortadella, prosciutto cotto, or porchetta—plus cheese and a few other ingredients.

Ultimately, all the gourmet crusts and paninis are the same size, which are large enough yet light enough to fill you up without weighing you down. They’re also easy to share, particularly if you’d like to try their specialty side items or leave room for dessert.

Gourmet Romano (Porchetta panini)
photo: Gourmet Romano (Porchetta panini)

It may be hard to pass up the selection of handmade suppli, a popular Italian side dish and snack. These Roman-style stuffed rice balls are filled with a combination of cheese, meat, and sauce, then breaded and deep fried for a crunchy outer surface. “If you like something fried, this is a different experience. It’s very delicious,” Karen said.

Gourmet Romano makes 3 kinds of suppli from scratch: Pomodoro & Basilico (tomato sauce, basil, and parmigiano cheese), Cacio e Pepe (pecorino and black pepper), and Amatriciano (tomato sauce, guanciale, and pecorino). And just for fun, they also offer housemade organic potato chips.

Gourmet Romano-Suppli-Foodzooka Splat
photo: Foodzooka (Pomodoro & Basilico Suppli)

For dessert, head back to the list of gourmet crusts and look for the Nutellina. This dessert crust is smeared with a premium chocolate hazelnut spread and sprinkled with organic coconut and pecans. Karen chose to use Nocciolata spread, which is similar to Nutella but contains all organic ingredients. It offers a sense of chocolatey indulgence without tasting sugary, allowing Gourmet Romano to flaunt the versatility of their crust.  

The secret to Gourmet Romano’s crust is the Italian chefs, Francesco Esposito and Matteo Di Nicola, who brought their training, skills, and passion to California to make a mark with this innovative version of pizza. Their secret to making the crust is actually out in the open, literally written on the wall behind the counter display.

Gourmet Romano - pinsa dough - Foodzooka Splat
photo: Foodzooka (pinsa dough)

One core distinction explained in this chalk statement is the amount of water in the dough, which retains 80% versus the usual 50-60% water in regular pizza dough. Another difference is the length of the fermentation process. Instead of giving the dough a quick 2 to 4 hours to ferment, Gourmet Romano goes way, way beyond that for a rising time of at least 48 hours, up to 72. The method is similar to making sourdough bread and brings the same benefits—the extended fermentation time allows the dough to build flavor, character, and healthy bacteria, plus it breaks down the yeast and gluten.

“We do that to make it more digestible and lighter,” said Karen, adding a common sense rationale: “It’s important how you feel two hours after your meal. If you feel good, then you will come back.”

Gourmet Romano also presents a welcoming atmosphere to keep you coming back. The staff greets you with a friendly “ciao” when you enter and another “ciao” when you leave, with Italian pop music playing in the background all along. The wall of shelves and refrigerated drinks are stocked with jars and bottles of imported Italian foods and beverages to pique your culinary curiosity.

Gourmet Romano - Burbank interior
photo: Gourmet Romano

Adding to the atmosphere is the rustic industrial interior, designed by Italian firm Tiberi Arredamenti. The modern trendiness inside contrasts the distressed look outside, painted to resemble the ancient walls of Rome.

Currently, the restaurant is only furnished with a long bar table and stools against one wall for dine-in seating, but Karen is working to add tables and chairs inside and outside the restaurant in the near future. He also plans to continuously expand the menu and envisions offering wine as well.  

“When you enter this place, we want you to feel like you entered Rome,” Karen said. “We want it to be like a slice of Rome in Burbank.”

Click for RESTAURANT HOURS & INFO on Foodzooka.com

Gourmet Romano - Burbank restaurant - Foodzooka Splat
photo: Foodzooka